The SlutWalk, He for she, Men are trash, Pride month and other social activism campaigns are evidence of the fact that gender issues are a serious problem in society. These have manifested as social injustice, discrimination such as unequal pay of women, domestic and gender-based violence. The incorporation of ministries of gender in government, non-governmental organizations such as Insta Hola, and the inclusion of gender in the UN sustainable development goals are more evidence that gender is something we need to pay attention to. Efforts to solve gender issue have been slow and hard because the root cause of the problem is rarely addressed. The truth is that in order to conquer gender issues we need to address gender norms and understand the concept of gender. Research in this field has been done by scholars dating back to as early as the beginning of the 20th century.
The concept of gender has been around for a long time as it has been used in the same capacity as sex. Robert Stoller is among the first people to bring out a distinction between the two terms in 1968. He argued that sex is the biological determinant of whether one was female or male while gender is the amount of masculinity or femininity one expressed. This argument was supported by the feminist in the 1970’s who added that many differences between men and women were a social construct not biological. After decades of research and arguments on the matter, there seems to be a universal definition that has been supported by the World Health Organization and educational institutions such as Stanford University.
Today, gender has been defined as the social or cultural variance of traits considered male or female while sex is the biological difference between male and female based on reproductive potential and genetic composition. Both gender and sex denote some differences between men and women and this is the part most members of society struggle with. We often believe in differences that are socially constructed assuming they are biological and this has resulted in the concept of gender norms and roles. Fausto Sterling supports this by stating that our social beliefs on gender are what define sex. She goes a step further to claim that our beliefs about gender actually influence the kind of knowledge scientists are going to produce about sex. The relevance of this argument is the fact that gender norms have been formulated based on the differences found between a man and woman and it is not always clear if the differences are biological or social. At the same time, the distinction between what is biological and what is socially constructed is blurred by the bias in research and the complexity of sex and gender. The United Nations women training center defines gender norms as standards about how men and women should be an act. These standards are created by a community or specific culture and may change with time. There have been theories on the origin of gender norms over the years. These theories seek to understand the origin of gender norms in order to test their application and relevance to society.
Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach to psychology seeks to explain human psychological behavior as products of natural selection;for example, a good memory is an adaptation for survival. Psychologists taking this approach have sought to explain gender norms too which led to the emergence of the evolutionary psychology theory of gender norms. This theory claims that gender norms have become part of our lives through the evolution process after the distribution of labour based on biological function and ability. Women were fertile beings and thus they bore the children. They would spend some time nurturing the children after birth and naturally took to home keeping activities. Their role as caregivers developed their nurturing, caring, soft-spoken traits which are considered feminine traits. On the other hand, men took the role of hunters and this allowed them to develop more physical strength, aggression, courage and other traits that are considered masculine. As time went by it became common for women to stay at home while men went out to play the role of providers.
Careers were built on these lines making it hard to work in a career that was beyond the confines of sex. Nigel Barber refutes the evolution theory as grounds for gender norms by stating that roles have been reversed and crossed on multiple accounts such as men being caregivers. By 2016 there were 16. 1% of single-parent households which were led by single fathers. Research also showed that children raised by single fathers faired as well as those raised by single mothers behavior wise and academically, in some cases better. The evolutionary theory has resulted in some gender norms in society such as rebarment of women in the professional workforce and tolerance of rape culture. The book: A Natural History of Rape by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer explains how rape is an adaption of man throughout evolution as a survival tactic. It explains that rapists are motivated by the biological need to reproduce rather than desire and other social needs. The book’s controversial nature sparked a variety of reactions including Cheryl Brown Travis who expresses her disagreement through the book: Evolution Gender and Rape. The book critiques the evolutionary theory to explain rape as being crudely biological and inconsiderate of the social aspects connected with rape. All in all this theory has received a lot of criticism for lack of solid empirical evidence. Another school of thought that seeks to explain the origin of gender norms is gender socialization. Social learning theorists stand by the fact that a wide range of factors influences us as men and women. In this line of thought, Mari Mikkola states that females become women by acquiring feminine traits and learning feminine behavior over time and the opposite for males. All this is achieved through social learning. The main agents of social learning are identified as family, peers, media, and education. A study by UNICEF shows that worldwide girls do 40% more house chores than boys. Such subtle acts are reinforced into children’s minds at an early age and they develop into “do’s and do not’s” of what they can achieve based on their sex. William Little, a supporter of this theory states that children are made aware of their distinct role and expectations by the time they are three years old. A secondary influence for social learning is religion. Religion plays a huge role in developing gender norms. In Christianity, for example, women are portrayed as subordinate to man and are expected to submit to their husbands Ephesians 5:22-33 New International Version (NIV). This religious teaching has played a huge role in determining the role of women in a family and has also been used as a justification for domestic violence.
The socialization theory seems to have more support than the Evolution Psychology theory. This could be attributed to the fact that the socialization theory is more relatable. The support may also be a result of the intensive research done in the field of social learning compared to evolutionary psychology. There is evident bias in both theories because of the nature of the topic. Researchers often get into the field with intentions of a message they would like to portray and therefore most research done is purposed on achieving set results. Despite the differences and bias, researchers agree that gender norms are a complex concept that needs further exploration. It is also important to note that most research done has been at a confined geographic scope. Widening the scope to increase more cultures could improve the accuracy of results in the future.
Based on research it is clear that the terms sex and gender have two distinct meanings with the latter referring to social aspects and attributes of masculinity and femininity. Despite the dispute on their origin, gender norms are an active part of society that affects people on an individual and societal level. Acquisition of information on gender within different societies is crucial in the identification of similarities that can be leveraged to find solutions. This paper will examine gender norms in different societies and their impact on gender issues such as rape with an aim of developing effective solutions.
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